Ambitious roadmap set to increase UK aerosol recycling

27 April 2023

Using research conducted by Resource Futures, Alupro has launched a roadmap of action to help the non-beverage packaging industry meet ambitious 2030 recycling targets.

The roadmap was launched on Wednesday 19 April alongside the annual BAMA innovation day at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, attended by influential thinkers and innovative manufacturers in the aerosol industry.

Access the roadmap here.

It is expected that mandatory recycling targets of 50 percent for aluminium and 85 percent for steel packaging by 2030 will form part of new packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (pEPR) reforms. Both aluminium and steel aerosols will have an important role in helping achieve these targets, however, aerosol recycling is not currently optimised. The industry needed help to understand where the greatest losses of discarded aerosols are from the recycling stream, the obstacles to improving capture and recycling, and which solutions can be implemented quickly.

On behalf of the UK Aerosol Recycling Initiative, Resource Futures carried out detailed waste compositional analysis of recycling and residual waste arising, and research of aerosol recycling practices carried out by households. This was alongside a review of how aerosol recycling is communicated to the public by local authorities and interviews with stakeholders throughout the value chain.

Helping this important industry explore the range of technical, market and social challenges, and identify pragmatic solutions to increasing aerosol recycling, is a timely reminder of how governments, individuals, and industries need to work together to address our global material challenges and embed a circular economy.

In this roadmap, Alupro has set out the clear direction of travel of how the industry is going to act immediately and make the transition a reality.

Sam Reeve, CEO at Resource Futures

Kerbside recycling collections across the UK means over 90 percent of UK households have the infrastructure ready for them to recycle aerosols effectively. Against this backdrop, there are high levels of confusion and lack of confidence in the public on how to recycle aerosols, resulting in large quantities of valuable materials lost in black bag collections.

With the advent of pEPR, the current lower than needed levels of aerosol recycling among households could result in producers and users paying large fees for using steel and aluminium, the world’s most recyclable materials, in aerosols. At the same time, this could undermine the sustainability credentials of aerosols if less recyclable and sustainable materials were to be used instead, despite technology being established enough to ensure high quality recycling of metal aerosols.

The technical ability to recycle aluminium and steel aerosols from households is unquestionable; demonstrated by the UK’s ability to effectively treat and recycle aerosols collected through commercial waste streams. However, through analysis of public survey data, stakeholder interviews and detailed waste compositional work, major obstacles were identified that are limiting the effectiveness of current technological capabilities and the ability to report accurately on aerosol recycling.

When looking for solutions to major problems, action is often limited to a focus on technological change. What was important to us at Alupro was understanding the arrangement of obstacles that went beyond the regulatory or technological.

Working with Resource Futures helped us develop evidence-based options for increasing the readiness levels of the market, the public and the industry, to support the change needed to help achieve high recycling levels.

Martin Hyde, Sustainability and Public Affairs Manager at Alupro

The published roadmap and associated detailed report is the first step in overcoming the primary obstacles identified in the research. By acting now, Alupro is working to:

  • Fill the gaps in data on household aerosol recycling rates and losses throughout the value chain;
  • Improve public knowledge, confidence and understanding about aerosols and responsible recycling practices;
  • Support the development of consistency in collection infrastructure and services;
  • Help ensure sorting processes are optimised and remain safe as aerosol volumes and concentrations increase;
  • Support the industry in retaining and maximising the value of aerosols in treatment processes; and
  • Encourage changes in the design of aerosols to reduce contamination of metals when sent for recycling.

We’re proud of the journey we’ve helped Alupro set out on. We look forward to the time when responsible aerosol recycling is common every day practice resulting in valuable materials staying in use as long as possible.

Ann Stevenson, Circular Economy Lead at Resource Futures